The term "Apocrypha" comes from Greek and means "hidden
things". It is used in three different ways: one, for writings that were
regarded as so important and precious that they must be hidden from the general
public and preserved for initiates, the inner circle of believers. Two, it was
applied to writings which were hidden not because they were too good, but
because they were not good enough: because they were secondary, questionable, or
heretical. And finally third, apocrypha was applied to those books which existed
outside the Hebrew canon -- that is, books of religious materials that the
Jewish people did not accept as scripture but which appeared in the Greek and
Latin translations of the OT.
It is for this reason, that the books of the apocrypha have
not been accepted as scripture outside of Roman Catholic circles. Within Roman
Catholicism, with the exception of the First and Second Books of Esdras and the
Prayer of Manasseh, the Roman Church accepts these writings as part of the Old
Testament and designates them as deuterocanonical, that is, added later to the
Below is a list and summary of each of the books and parts of
books included in the apocrypha (it is interesting to note that these books
appeared in the original edition of the King James Version of the Bible):
1 ESDRAS gives a parallel account of the events
recorded in Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, with one large addition called "The
Debate of the Three Youths". It is an adaptation of a Persian story. In the
story, Zerubbabel, the guardsman of Darius, wins a debate with two other young
men over who the strongest power might be: wine, the king, or, as Zerubbabel
said, "women are strongest, but truth conquers all." By winning this debate,
Zerubbabel is able to remind Darius of his obligation to allow the rebuilding of
2 ESDRAS is an expansion by Christian writers of an
original Jewish apocalyptic work. It consists of seven visions:
TOBIT is a pious short story about a righteous Hebrew
of the northern kingdom of Israel taken into captivity. Tobit suffers
persecution because he helps his fellow Israelites under the tyranny of
Esarhaddon. He is blinded accidentally and, to his shame, his wife must support
him. He prays that he may die. At the same time, a prayer is offered in Ecbatana
by a young Jewish woman named Sarah who is being haunted by a demon named
Asmodaeus, who has slain seven of her husbands on their wedding night. The angel
Raphael is sent "to heal them both". Tobit sends his son Tobias to collect ten
silver talents left in Media. Raphael takes the form of Azariah, who is hired as
his traveling companion. In the Tigris a fish is caught, and its heart, liver,
and gall are preserved by Tobias on Azariah's recommendation. Tobias arrives in
Ecbatana and becomes engaged to Sarah, who he comes to find out is his cousin.
On their wedding night, he burns the heart and liver of the fish and the stench
drives the demon away to Egypt. Preceded by his dog, Tobias returns home (where
his father had given up on him as lost). Tobias takes the fish gall and anoints
his father's eyes, thereby restoring his sight.
- The seer demands an explanation for the suffering of Zion, whose sin is not
greater than that of her oppressor. The angel Uriel answers that it cannot be
understood, but that the era soon to come will bring salvation.
- The seer
wants to know why Israel, God's chosen, has been delivered up to other nations.
The answer again is that it is incomprehensible to men, but good times are
- The seer asks why the Jews do not possess the earth. The answer
given is that they will inherit it in an age to come. There is also some
discussion about the after life.
- A mourning woman recounts her woes and is
thereupon transformed into a glorious city, a symbol of Jerusalem.
twelve-winged and three-headed eagle, the symbol of Rome which the interpreting
angel identifies as the fourth beast of Daniel chapter seven will be supplanted
by the Messiah.
- A man arises from the sea, annihilating an antagonistic
multitude; it is an adaptation based on the Son of man vision in Daniel 7.
- The topic is Ezra's supposed restoration of the sacred books of the Hebrew
Bible by means of a vision and the help of supernaturally guided scribes.
JUDITH is the story of a young Jewish woman who was a
widow. She is a native of Bethulia which is being besieged by the general
Holofernes. She visits him in his camp, under the ruse of revealing military
secrets. Once with him, she begins to entice him with her charms, until, while
banqueting alone with him, she is able to cut off his head. She then returns to
Bethulia with his head and is greeted by great rejoicing. The Assyrians then
retreat from the city after discovering that their general had been killed.
Judith and the other women of the city then rejoice with a psalm of praise
ADDITIONS TO DANIEL. Several stories appear in the
Greek translation of the book of Daniel that are not present in the original
text. These stories are as follows:
- The Prayer of Azariah -- this is uttered while he is in the fiery furnace
in Dan 3. (Remember, Azariah is the original Hebrew name of the man whom
Nebuchadnezzar called Abednego.)
- The Song of the Three Holy Children --
this is sung to God's praise as the three walk around in the fire.
-- Susanna is the beautiful and virtuous wife of a wealthy Jew in Babylon. Two
elders of the people who lust after her come upon her while she is taking a bath
and offer her the alternative of either letting them have sex with her or facing
an accusation of being an adulteress.. She chooses the latter. The two men who
have accused her are believed by everyone and she is condemned to death, though
she protests her innocence. Daniel cries out against the injustice of this and
in a second trial before him, the lie is uncovered and the woman is justified.
- Bel and the Dragon -- Daniel shows that the priests of Bel, and not the
image of the god, devours the nightly offerings of food by scattering flour on
the floor. In the morning, the footprints of the priests are plainly visible,
taking the food away. The king of Babylon thereupon destroys the image. Then,
Daniel destroys a mighty dragon that is worshiped by the Babylonians. He is
tossed into the lions den and is preserved alive for six days. On the sixth day,
the prophet Habakkuk is miraculously transported to Babylon to provide Daniel
with food. On the seventh day he is released by the king.
ADDITIONS TO ESTHER. There are six additional passages
in the Greek version of the book. The first deals with Mordecai's dream and his
prevention of a conspiracy against the king. The second is the king's edict for
the destruction of all the Jews in his realm. The third are the prayers of
Esther and Mordecai. The fourth describes Esther's audience with the king. The
fifth is the king's edict permitting Jewish self-defense. And the sixth includes
the interpretation of Mordecai's dream.
THE PRAYER OF MANASSEH claims to be the prayer which
Manasseh is recorded as praying in 2Ch 33:11-19, a prayer of repentance.
THE EPISTLE OF JEREMIAH purports to be a letter written
by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon; the letter attacks idolatry.
THE BOOK OF BARUCH claims to be the work of the friend
and scribe of Jeremiah. In the setting of the Babylonian Exile of 597 BC, Baruch
is depicted as addressing the exiles, setting out a confession of sins, a prayer
for forgiveness and a prayer for salvation. Next, the book praises the Wisdom
that may be found in the law of Moses and without which the heathen have come to
nothing, but with which Israel can be saved. Finally, the book ends with a
lament of Jerusalem over the exiles, followed by an exhortation to Jerusalem
that she should be comforted, because her children will some day come home.
ECCLESIASTICUS. Also called the Wisdom of Joshua (or
Jesus) ben-Sira (not to be confused with the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible).
He was a Palestinian Jew living in Jerusalem; parts of the original Hebrew text
have been uncovered, though it is best known in the Greek translation made by
his grandson who furnishes chronological details in a preface. The most likely
date for Ben-Sira himself is around 180 BC, since his grandson apparently
migrated to Egypt in the reign of Ptolemy VII Euergetes (170-117 BC). The book
falls into two parts and fits the Ancient Near Eastern literary classification
called Wisdom Literature. The first half of the book gives advice for a
successful life conceived in the widest sense: fear of the Lord and the
observance of the Law are allied in the author's experience and teaching with
practical wisdom drawn from observation and his own life. He argues that
personal piety will express itself in the observance of the law in which Wisdom
is revealed. In daily living, moderation will be the keynote of all aspects of
life. The second half of the book concludes with a list praising the famous men
from Israel's history, ending with Simon II, the high priest (c. 200 BC).
THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON is an exhortation to seek wisdom,
and claims to have been composed by Solomon (it wasn't -- it dates back to only
about 200 BC). Ch 1-5 declare the blessings that will come to those who seek
after Wisdom. Ch 6-9 personify Wisdom as a feminine celestial being, foremost of
the creatures and servants of God. Ch 10-19 then conclude by reviewing Old
Testament history in the light of Wisdom: Wisdom has aided the Jewish people
throughout their history, and destroyed their enemies.
1 MACCABEES covers the events between 175 and 134 BC,
that is, the struggle of the Jews against Antiochus Epiphanes, the wars of the
Hasmonaeans, and the rule of John Hyrcanus. The book ends with elaborate praise
of John Hyrcanus, written just after his death in 103 BC. The book describes the
origin of the Jewish Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication (see John
10:22 which records that Jesus celebrated this holiday) -- or as it is more
commonly known, Hanukkah.
2 MACCABEES covers much of the same material as 1
Maccabees, but it does not continue the history beyond the campaigns and defeat
of Nicanor. There are a number of discrepancies in chronological and numerical
matters between the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.